Church Mission Society mission partners working in north-eastern Zaïre are determined to stay as long as possible, despite personal risk and growing catastrophe in the region as three warring factions battle for control.
Reports reaching London say that all 24 British and Australian CMS personnel - 18 adults and 6 children - are, for the moment, safe and well. They serve with the Anglican Church in Zaïre, assisting in hospitals and clinics, and in community development and theological education programmes.
The determination of mission partners to stay has the full support of the leadership of the Society in London. "CMS has a long-standing policy of urging mission partners to stand with their brothers and sisters until they are asked to leave by the local church," says the Rev Christopher Carey, Regional Secretary for East and Central Africa.
CMS is also concerned for members and leaders of the Zairean Church who are in the midst of the conflict. They include the Archbishop of Zaïre, the Most Rev Patrice Njojo, based in Boga. Archbishop Njojo has been asked by the Zairean army commandant in Boga for money to feed his soldiers - to prevent them looting the market and local houses.
Food reserves are running out in each of the areas where the Church is working. Archdeacon Masimengo Katanda, Bishop-designate of the new Diocese of Kindu, is presently in Goma where there is no food or other supplies. There has been no news of Bishop Dirokpa of Bukavu since the fighting there; only a rumour that he is walking from Bukavu northwards.
Four mission partners based in Bunia moved to Boga on 7 November because of incidents of looting and intimidation by retreating members of the Zairean army.
One CMS mission partner staying in place is Dr Patricia Nickson, Director of the Pan-African Institute of Community Health, (IPASC), situated in Nyankunde, 30 miles from Bunia.
She described the scene when retreating members of the Zairean army entered the town after fighting in the Bukavu-Goma area. "They came to Nyankunde, shooting in the commercial centre, but, not finding any vehicles, they came on to the hospital. They were half naked, shooting in the air. They took two vehicles. One belonged to the Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF), but they left the aged IPASC vehicle.
"I was a few feet away and ran for cover. It was all over very fast and no one was injured. I went to the MAF hanger, and suddenly an almighty row broke out, with shooting in the hanger itself. One of the military 'guarding the airstrip' was demanding money. He shouted, wept and shot in frequent and crazy rotation. It was extremely frightening and dangerous.
"I was hiding in the next room, with a couple of others. After about 45 minutes and many bullets, the soldier took a motor cycle and a lot of money and raced down the airstrip."
Dr Nickson says that several people involved could have been killed and the incident left the whole town 'very shaken'.
CMS headquarters is maintaining almost day-to-day contact with the mission partners. The final decision as to whether they stay or leave is in the hands of the leaders of the Church there. Recent information indicates that the archbishop has given his blessing for their evacuation to Uganda, but mission partners report at this time that 'no one was ready to leave'.
The local church's decision takes into account the fact that expatriate people cannot easily merge with the local population. They can become targets for violence and retribution, and their presence can sometimes endanger the local population.
For further information, contact the Rev John Evenson, CMS Media Officer, 0171 928 8681 x378